Moon astronaut teaches that great successes means taking risks

The tallest hurdles to future space exploration is a “complacency and lack of clear commitment," said retired astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon and an Elon University speaker for students and grandparents at the start of Family Weekend. Details…

Aldrin, 77, shared his experiences in the space program and his vision for the future of space travel during a Sept. 28 speech.
Aldrin, 77, shared his experiences in the space program and his vision for the future of space travel during a Sept. 28 talk at the McCrary Theatre in the Center for the Arts. Aldrin and fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong took the first human steps on the Moon on July 20, 1969, where the pair spent shy of three hours conducting experiments and photographing its “magnificent desolation.”

“We were witness to the utter desolation of the moon with its lifeless, windless, barren landscape,” Aldrin said. “Only its harsh shadows moved with the sun.”

Aldrin was invited to campus because the university hoped his storieswould be of interest to students’ grandparents, a group that Elon ismaking an effort to include in campus events. The Friday presentation, which followed a news conference for local media, coincided with the release this month of a critically acclaimed film on the lives of the Apollo astronauts.

“In the Shadow of the Moon,” a Ron Howard documentary,  won a World Cinema Audience Award at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Aldrin was one of 10 Apollo program astronauts to share his memories on camera with filmmakers.

Born in Montclair, N.J., Aldrin attended West Point and graduated with honors in 1951. He flew dozens of combat missions in the Korean conflict, where he shot down two enemy planes. NASA selected Aldrin as one of its astronauts in 1963. Six years later, Aldrin joined Neil Armstrong in exploring the Sea of Tranquility on the Moon.

And while his reflections of the past captivated the audience, it was Aldrin’s worry for what lies ahead that he emphasized in his hour presentation. He said that Americans have not fully honored the debt of men who paved the way to space in the 1950s and 60s.

Aldrin, who earned his doctorate in astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reflected that its has been 35 years since the last time a human traveled beyond the orbit of Earth. Much of that, he said, is because society has become risk-averse following space disasters like the Columbia shuttle crash and the problems with the Hubble space telescope.

“Those who put themselves at risk accomplish larger ends, and they are the ones who lift our lives to a higher level,” Aldrin said. ”We often forget there can be no meaningful success without the possibility to fail.”

That is where private commercial enterprises will play a key role in propelling humans deeper into the solar system, said Aldrin, who has started a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public on space exploration.

As companies devise ways to make money off space travel to the outer edges of the Earth’s atmosphere, and wealthy benefactors offer multimillion-dollar prizes to teams that can land robots on the Moon, the technology and know-how of returning to the Moon – and then Mars – may be less than three decades away.

“What a time this is to be alive,” Aldrin said. “We’ve learned more in the last half century than in all human history, and we’ve only scratched the surface.”